Also by this author: Summer House with Swimming Pool, Dear Mr. M
Published by Hogarth on 2009
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
Thanks to April at The Steadfast Reader for this clever headline.
What would you do if you knew that your son committed an unspeakable horror and would very likely get away with it? Would you discipline him? Turn him in? Pretend it never happened? These are the questions faced by two sets of parents in The Dinner by Herman Koch and the answers might surprise you.
Punctuated by tidbits from the past to add context to the present story, the bulk of this book takes place over the course of one evening, or rather one dinner. If you’re like me, you may be asking yourself how a book with such limited scope could be such a popular read, but if you give it a chance then you’ll understand. Here’s a line from the book that gives an indication of why this is:
“A happy family can survive a shipwreck. I’m not trying to say that the family will be happier afterwards, but in any case not unhappier.”
There are two ways to approach this book – as a casual story of two sets of parents trying to decide how to deal with their children OR as a book about morality. Personally, I recommend the latter. Beyond being a quick read, The Dinner is a moralist’s dream conversation starter. Do the same rules apply to your own children as other people? If no one else knows your child committed a crime, do you have a duty to society to turn him in? Or does your duty to family trump your duty to society? And what role do feelings of personal guilt play? Does a child’s guilt mean you shouldn’t turn him in or that you should? Who’s job is it to decide this, anyway? The kids? The parents? Does the group need to reach a consensus? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!
If you’re looking for answers to these questions, I can’t give them to you because every reader will come into this book with their own set of moral codes. Even so, this surprisingly short book packs a lot of punch in the thinking department and will make your head spin the more you you try to analyze it. So, if you want a book that will leave you thinking about it for a longer period of time than it took to for you to read it, this is definitely the one.
Recommended for: Readers who enjoy moral conundrums with a splash of the disturbing.